Preservation Project: Developing a Virtual Museum

Syracuse is rich in African American history; early abolitionists, suffragists, and advocates for native sovereignty and treaty rights established their voices and led nationwide change from Central New York. The area has also reverberated from such dramatic shifts as the vast migration from Southern states and the demise of the city’s 15th ward. Unfortunately, much of this history of African Americans in Syracuse is scattered among churches, community organizations, and private residences. The Black History Preservation project is committed to honoring and celebrating the history and heritage of black people in Syracuse and Onondaga County. A partnership of residents, community organizations, and SU faculty and staff is building a virtual museum to highlight the presence, accomplishments, and contributions of this often under-recognized community.


 The plan for a virtual museum, which would preserve local black history in one forum, evolved from a community team meeting in 2008 in which members sought to create a cultural center containing the history of black people in Syracuse. Under the guidance of the South Side Initiative Office, the Black History Preservation project brings together various community partners: the Onondaga County Public Library, the Onondaga Historical Association, the Dunbar Association, the City of Syracuse Office of Multi-Cultural Affairs, UMI Associates, residents, local church representatives, and SU, which includes an interdisciplinary team from the School of Information Studies, the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Visual and Performing Arts, and Syracuse University Libraries.

 Faculty conduct community workshops on identifying and preserving family collections and local history. They have also initiated an oral history pilot project. Efforts to digitize materials owned by community members, churches, and organizations and to develop a virtual presence for those materials began in 2008. The partnership plans to eventually expand the target area to include other African American communities throughout Onondaga County. This community-university model of cooperative preservation of culturally significant archival materials is also being developed to translate to other cultural venues.

In addition to educational workshops and the collection of oral histories, SU developed a certificate of advanced study in the preservation of cultural heritage. The graduate-level certificate prepares students to collect and preserve artifacts reflecting the history of a community, an organization, or other social groups. Students will work with a community project to complement their classroom learning. The multidisciplinary certificate program involves the departments of anthropology, fine arts, and museum studies, and the School of Information Studies. The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture of the New York Public Library will help train graduate students to work with black special collections and archival materials once the newly created and certificate program is underway.